Natural Products Chemistry: Sources, Separations, and Structures by Raymond Cooper and George Nicola. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 2014. Softcover; 206 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4665-6761-0. $99.95.
The discipline of pharmacognosy — “the study of the physical, chemical, biochemical, and biological properties of drugs, drug substances, or potential drugs or drug substances of natural origin, as well as the search for new drugs from natural sources,” as defined in the introduction of Natural Products Chemistry — encompasses a multitude of approaches, specialties, skills and techniques, and even the knowledge of various organisms including plants, bacteria, and marine life. To capture the broad view of this scientific field is challenging, but authors Raymond Cooper, PhD, and George Nicola, PhD, have succeeded in this endeavor with their introductory text.
Starting out with a foreword by distinguished pharmacognosist Koji Nakanishi, PhD, this book is organized into sections, beginning with a chapter on the variety of natural products sources, followed by chapters covering extraction and separation techniques, compound structure elucidation, biosynthesis pathways, and main compound classes. Subsequent sections discuss natural products in health, and Section IV, “Nature’s Pleasures and Dangers,” examines sweeteners and toxins, among other interesting natural products. The scope of this book is quite broad, and individual subjects and examples are discussed briefly with the aim of introducing the reader to as many aspects of pharmacognosy as possible.
Offset text boxes titled “Historical Note” include anecdotes and maintain the reader’s interest with fascinating accounts. For example, Chapter 10 mentions that sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua, Asteraceae) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of malaria; however, it was not until a mid-century screening program by the Chinese army that the antimalarial compound artemisinin was discovered. Chapter 9 discusses how the antibiotic penicillin, isolated from the fungi Penicillium notatum (Trichocomaceae) and P. chrysogenum, was used to save soldiers’ lives from infection during World War II. The authors state that the usage of penicillin at that time, prior to the full characterization of its “structure” and “purity,” would not have been approved by the modern-day United States Food and Drug Administration. Detailing real-world applications and historical accounts of diverse natural products is a great strategy for illustrating pharmacognosy’s importance to human health and history.
Color photos from photographer Steven Foster provide bright visual accompaniments to the corresponding botanical chemistry descriptions, and the text contains myriad structure illustrations of the compounds discussed. Questions at the end of each chapter provide useful summaries and are written to prompt the reader to think beyond the written contents. This approach offers great discussion points for use in classroom instruction.
Overall organization of the material is logical, but some chapters might have been better placed. For example, Chapter 11 (“Carotenoids”) and Chapter 12 (“Vitamins”) may have been more appropriate in Section II (“Selected Classes of Natural Products”) than in Section III (“Natural Product Contributions to Human Health”). Notably absent from Section II is a chapter on terpenes. Although there is a dedicated chapter on these compounds in Section III, their broad bioactivity and presence across plant families warrants more attention in an introductory text.
The book suffers from a few other minor limitations. Oddly, Latin binomials and standard common names are used inconsistently, and some appear without the other. Also, content concerning biochemical pathways of mammalian mechanisms of action would have been useful or easily made more detailed, especially in Section III. For example, in Chapter 5 (“Sugar and Fat and All of That”), “NO,” an abbreviation for nitric oxide, should have been spelled out prior to the abbreviation, and the contribution of certain fatty acids to its synthesis is unclear as written. An additional sentence here would have been welcome. Expanding further on mammalian bioactivity would have increased this text’s applicability and interest to medical students and health professionals. Additionally, some of the compound structures did not reproduce well and seem out of proportion or of insufficient resolution.
Despite these small shortcomings, Natural Products Chemistry is a great basic overview of pharmacognosy that will be useful for undergraduate classes or introductory graduate work in this field. The text is written in a straightforward and accessible manner, aptly lending itself to use both in classes and in labs. In this regard, the book accomplishes its goals of introducing the varied field of pharmacognosy and establishing the discipline as vibrant, diverse, and constantly applicable and necessary to human society. I certainly would recommend its use in universities, medical schools, and pharmacy programs.
—Amy C. Keller, PhDPostdoctoral FellowUniversity of Colorado School of MedicineDivision of Endocrinology, Metabolism & DiabetesAnschutz Medical CampusAurora, Colorado